Margaritaville, they say, is a state of mind. But until now, it's not been a state of mind available to Californians. Oh, lucky, lucky Los Angeles: California's first Margaritaville is here, at Universal Studio's CityWalk, just beyond the giant Van Halen guitar that marks the Hard Rock Cafe, and right next to the iFly indoor skydiving tube-o-wind. On Thursday afternoon, Jimmy Buffett showed up to celebrate this momentous occasion.
The private event was packed with media, “VIPs” and rabid Parrotheads. Each group was cordoned off in its own little area: media on the floor beside the bar, VIPs in front of the stage where Buffett would perform, Parrotheads in full tropical regalia on the raised dining area in back of the massive restaurant. We all had access to the store, crammed with “It's 5 o'Clock Somewhere” T-shirts and lots of shot glasses.
Were there margaritas? Of course there were. Mango margaritas, pineapple margaritas, regular margaritas. Served in plastic cups, they were tooth-bendingly sweet. There were also performers on stilts, and lots and lots of very happy employees carrying trays with cones of coconut shrimp, slider-sized cheeseburgers, skewers of grilled beef, ahi tuna on kale salad. One waitress, after delivering another round of shrimp, shouted at us: “Thank you for joining us in paradise!”
And then, the main event. At 5 p.m. sharp Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band. Is there a happier, more relaxed dude than Jimmy Buffett? There is not. Seeing him in person — through a crowd and two security fences and a boat that doubles as a big booth situation — makes you appreciate the whole way-of-life thing. It make you understand why Jimmy Buffett is a whole lifestyle. He makes you want to retire to Margaritaville. (And now you can, thanks to Margaritaville retirement communities.)
He jumped onstage, grinned rakishly, said, “I guess this is what free liquor gets you.” Then he launched right into “Tiki Bar Is Open.” Older folks — in garish tropical garb with toy parrots literally attached to their heads — went wild. From there Buffett went for the jugular with “Margaritaville.” A sing-along ensued.
He played for more than 45 minutes, and played the hits. It was awesome. Outside, the show was broadcast on the giant screen TV in the midst of CityWalk. People gathered to watch, transfixed, under the screen. They'd reached the Margaritaville state of mind, and they weren't even inside the restaurant.